Pittsburgh Penguins

Pirates spoil McCutchen's return as Giants drop fifth straight

Pirates spoil McCutchen's return as Giants drop fifth straight

PITTSBURGH — Andrew McCutchen got a standing ovation before each of his plate appearances Friday night, including one that lasted 90 seconds. That was the highlight of the night for the Giants. 

Andrew Suarez became the latest Giants starter to get rocked and the lineup struck out 14 more times in an 11-2 loss to the Pirates, including two by McCutchen, who was 1 for 5 in his first game back. Through five games, the Giants are 0-for-Pennsylvania. They are back below .500. If that’s not enough, here’s more! 

—- Suarez gave up a two-run homer in the first and another in the fourth. He didn’t pitch the fifth. The latest time through the rotation, the five Giants starters combined for just 22 innings and allowed 23 runs. Derek Holland was the best of the bunch and he gave up three earned in five innings. 

—- Jameson Taillon picked up where the Phillies left off. The hard-throwing right-hander had five strikeouts through the first three innings — including two of McCutchen — but he was removed before the top of the fourth with a finger laceration. The Giants have 69 strikeouts in their last five games. 

—- Kyle Crick was traded for McCutchen. They faced off in the fifth, and McCutchen grounded out to third with a runner on. The Giants still probably won that trade, but you can bet Crick enjoyed that moment. 

—- Old friend George Kontos , who was very, very excited about facing the Giants, pitched the eighth. He loaded the bases on a hit-by-pitch, error and single, but got McCutchen to ground out to third with two outs. 

—- Jose Valdez made his Giants debut in the seventh. He was throwing 96 mph. He also gave up a two-run homer to Josh Bell on a fastball right down the middle. This bullpen has a serious depth issue. 

Sharks cough up puck, game to Penguins

Sharks cough up puck, game to Penguins

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH  — Evgeni Malkin got his 12th career hat trick and Bryan Rust scored two goals as the surging Pittsburgh Penguins rallied for a 5-2 victory over the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday night.

Malkin's 24th goal of the season late in the second period tied it. His 25th early in the third gave Pittsburgh the lead for good and his 26th rolled into an empty net with just more than a minute remaining as the Penguins won for the eighth time in 10 games.

Matt Murray stopped 40 shots in his first start since the death of his father, James, this month.

Brent Burns and Logan Couture scored power-play goals for the Sharks but San Jose dropped its second straight game without Joe Thornton, who is out indefinitely with a right leg injury.

Martin Jones finished with 26 saves but also gave the puck away behind the San Jose net in the third period. Patric Hornqvist intercepted Jones' sloppy clearing attempt and fed it in front to a streaking Malkin, who had little trouble putting it into an open net 6:01 into the third.

Rust, hindered by injuries this season, doubled Pittsburgh's advantage 13:58 into the third thanks to a pretty between-the-legs drop pass from Tom Kuhnhackl before Malkin finished off Pittsburgh's sixth straight home victory.

The Penguins returned from the All-Star break looking to build off their best extended play of the season, which has lifted the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions out of a funk and back into the thick of the packed Metropolitan Division race.

It's a surge they've made largely without Murray, who took a leave of absence after his father died on Jan. 16. Casey DeSmith and Tristian Jarry filled in capably with Murray out, but the 23-year-old let coach Mike Sullivan know he was ready to go as his team began what it hopes is a push toward another long playoff run.

Murray certainly looked sharp in his first start since shutting out Boston on Jan. 7, keeping the Penguins in it as San Jose dominated play for long stretches.

Rust's first goal since Nov. 27 on a slick backhand that slid by Jones gave Pittsburgh the lead 11:09 into the first, but the Sharks used a pair of power-play goals in the second to surge ahead. Burns slipped a wrist shot from the point through traffic to tie it at the game's midway point and Couture pounded home a rebound 18:35 into the second to put San Jose in front.

With time winding down in the second, Phil Kessel went to the corner and fed a blind backhand pass to Malkin, who ripped it by Jones with just four seconds left to even the score and give the Penguins a serious boost.

NOTES: Penguins captain Sidney Crosby got an assist on Malkin's empty-netter to extend his point streak to 10 games. ... Malkin played in his 754th career game, passing Jean Provonost for fourth-most in franchise history. ... The Sharks scratched forward Jannik Hansen, C Daniel O'Regan and D Tim Heed. The Penguins scratched D Chad Ruhwedel, D Matt Hunwick and forward Ryan Reaves. ... Pittsburgh went 0 for 3 on the power play. The Sharks were 2 for 5 with the man advantage.

UP NEXT

Sharks: Continue their five-game road trip Wednesday in Detroit.

Penguins: Host the Washington Capitals on Friday.

Sharks have tall task against Penguins, who are in Stanley Cup form

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USATSI

Sharks have tall task against Penguins, who are in Stanley Cup form

The Sharks witnessed firsthand the emergence of Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia native Nathan Mackinnon as a legitimate superstar in a loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday. Naturally, their reward is to face the NHL's first superstar from the area on Saturday. 

And of course, much like Mackinnon, Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby is playing some of the best hockey of his career. 

In 2018, no player has scored more points than the three-time Stanley Cup champion (15). In fact, three of the top five scorers in the new year skate in the Steel City: Evgeni Malkin is tied for third with 13 points, and Phil Kessel is right behind him in a tie for fifth with 12 points. 

The trio has powered the Penguins to a three-point lead on the Eastern Conference's final Wild Card spot. As recently as New Year's Eve, though, the Penguins were seventh place in the loaded Metropolitan Division, and three points back of the postseason. 

It was always a matter of 'when' rather than 'if' Pittsburgh would turn it on. Fatigue was always a possibility, as the back-to-back champions have played at least 13 more postseason games (49) than any other team in the league over the last two seasons, but any concerns seem firmly in the rearview mirror at the moment. 

The same cannot necessarily be said about the Sharks, whom the Penguins dispatched in six games in San Jose's first Stanley Cup Final appearance. Yes, they've won three out of four since the bye week, but haven't played all that well in the process.

Two of those wins came against the lowly Coyotes, and San Jose has barely out-possesed their opponents (50.74 five-on-five corsi-for percentage; 51.22 fenwick-for percentage, according to Corsica Hockey). They're scoring nearly a goal more per 60 minutes of five-on-five play (2.69) than before the bye (1.85), but are allowing nearly one-and-a-quarter more goals (3.58 five-on-five GA/60) than before the bye week (2.24).

The latter is, at least in part, because Martin Jones is not playing well. The Conn Smythe-like form that kept the Sharks in it against the Penguins two Junes ago has largely eluded him this season, and injury may have played a part. 

Jones is day-to-day with a minor injury, according to the Bay Area News Group's Paul Gackle, and the team recalled goaltender Troy Grosenick from the San Jose Barracuda on Friday as a result. That leaves Aaron Dell in net as the last line of defense against the Penguins. 

With Pittsburgh looking a lot like the team that celebrated a Stanley Cup win on San Jose's home ice two postseasons ago, stopping them will be a tall task.